The alarm rang, but she had been up for a longish while already. She didn’t need to be reminded that today was a big day — today was the day for which she had been born, in a very literal sense.
She walked over to her alarm clock and switched it off, appreciating the irony of an old-fashioned alarm clock when around the house AI would gladly have set the alarm and turned it off, changed the ambient temperature, chosen her clothing all with the same inevitable competence. The very same competence with which it would later today start the process of her becoming another person.
Yomi signed her name in the visitor’s book with a grin. “Yomi” she marked in practiced strokes. Her name was written in hiragana. Whether he parents had meant it to mean “darkness” or “ to read” or some other more obscure, poetic meaning, (she had once seen a poem in which ‘yellow spring’ had been pronounced Yomi and she thought that sounded sulfurous and quite disgusting) she would never know. When she had been younger, she had pored through her parents’ writings, hoping for a clue. But if they had had conversations late into the night about their unborn daughter, her future role as an archive, or the life she might lead when they were gone, there was so sign. They loved their writing, they loved their work and, when there was time, they loved her. But she was not brought into the world to be their daughter and they had died when she was too young to remember them clearly. Staring at images never really sparked memory, she knew from experience. Only their words seemed real to her now. She looked at her name in the ledger, half prepared to chose for herself, but laid the pen back in its well. What would be the point at such a late date?
The door opened silently and Yomi walked in to the library. She didn’t know what to expect at all, despite a lifetime of preparation. She was met by the vaguely sweet smell of old books and wood. The light in the room was ample and the chairs…well, those chairs were chairs you could curl up in and stay for hours.
Yomi wasn’t alone here. She could hear soft footfalls among the shelves, and voices murmured gently. The atmosphere was quietly energetic, anticipatory.
“Excuse me…” a soft voice brought Yomi back into the present. A person not much older than herself, dressed in the soft green of the library livery stood comfortably to her left.
“Yomi,” Yomi said automatically. “You can call me Yomi.”
“Miss Yomi, “ the librarian said with a nod. “I am Khushi. Please come with me.” They hesitated slightly, a struggle playing out in their dark eyes.
“You want to ask me something.” It was not a question.
Khushi let out a small breath and nodded. “I’m not supposed to, though.” they admitted, which made Yomi smile, which made Khushi smile.
“Go ahead,” Yomi waved her hand slightly, “we’re standing in the foyer. Surely that symbolically means I haven’t yet entered the other world fully. You may ask your question.”
Khushi’s eyes sparkled at Yomi’s speech. “You’re more…method…than I would have thought.” Yomi suppressed a giggle. Khushi took a breath. “Are you…okay…with this?”
The hesitation is just their way of speaking, Yomi realized, and normally it might have been a quirky habit. Today it sounded ominous and she tried to not make anything of it.
“I am. And, I am not.” Yomi answered honestly. “My whole life exists for today, but after today — regardless of what happens — I can never be the me I am again.” She paused. “I guess it’s like childbirth, only I am both the child and the mother.”
“And the doctors and the grandparents..” Khushi mused and then stopped, startled. “Oh! I didn’t mean to…”
Yomi waved her hand again, this time to dispel the librarian’s concern. “You didn’t.”
Khushi had clearly pulled themselves together. “Shall we?” they gestured towards the center of the room, where an elevator sat stodgily, caged by an elegant spiral stairway that ascended into the levels above.
“May we take the stairs?” Yomi asked. “I know it is a long way up, but I,” she emphasized the word slightly, “will never come this way again. There isn’t any timeline, is there?”
Khushi shook their head and proceeded towards the stairs. “No, there is no timeline… beyond your lifespan.”
Yomi once again reminded herself, this time firmly, that there was nothing ominous about that.
Khushi started up the stairs, then backed back down. “Do you…want to follow me? Or go first?”
Yomi waved her ahead. “You can go first, so I don’t have to talk while looking down.” She smiled quickly so there’d be no sting in the words, then followed up with the triviality that filled her thoughts to distraction, as they walked.
“Will there be meal breaks? I mean, I know I can stop for food, or sleep, but will I be fed, or what?”
“We’ll provide whatever you’d like, as long as it’s not too extraordinary.”
“No Chateaubriand and Chateau Mouton Rothschild Pauillac, 2000, then?” Yomi joked, then realized that the joke was not very funny, but Khushi laughed anyway.
“I guess that’s pretty expensive wine?” the librarian said, “And no, it’s outside the scope. Sadly, so is my Dadi’s Prawn curry.” Khushi sighed a little wistfully. “Now I’m hungry.”
“Why can’t we get your,” Yomi thought about it for a second, “grandmother’s, curry?” She liked curry.
“Because she’s dead and gone a decade now.”
“Ah,” Yomi said. Also not a funny joke.
Khushi was laughing again. “You’re not at all what I expected.”
“What did you expect?” Yomi had to concentrate on the stairs. She hadn’t realized that they design would make her so dizzy but the scrollwork she passed as they climbed added to her vertigo.
“I don’t know,” Khushi admitted. “Someone less sure of themselves…someone with less of a personality? Since…” the librarian stopped abruptly.
Yomi filled in the unspoken thought, “…since my personality is going to be overwritten?”
There was a long pause, almost 20 steps worth. Finally Khushi admitted, “Yes.” Then, “But we don’t know that it will be. Do we?”
Yomi thought about it. “No, we don’t. It’s been more than a century since the last transfer. I’ve read her journals, but her world was so different, it’s like reading fiction. Did you know,” she was talking to herself as much as to the librarian, “that when Elena took over the position, the people used electronic screens for data display?” Khushi stopped climbing and turned to look at Yomi, puzzled.
“Really!” Yomi replied to the unspoken question. “Elena talked about her “phone” and her “computer” but I did some archival training and they had screens everywhere. Billboards, and digital signs and something call “television” and “movies” which, get this, was short for “moving pictures”! It was crazy. Elena spent her whole life attached to a screen of one kind or another.”
“How did she even know how to read books?” Khushi sounded scandalized.
“They still had books then.” Now it was Yomi’s turn to sound wistful.
They were silent then, as the climbed the rest of the way up the staircase, circling around the elevator shaft until Yomi stopped doing anything but watching where she put her feet.
Khushi handed Yomi off to an older librarian, whose pale eyes were huge in a small, friendly face. “Hello, I’m Terry,” the librarian said, as they lead the way down a hall. “Is there anything you need before we get started? A drink, a nap?”
“I’m fine, thank you,” Yomi had no idea what to ask for, honestly. She wasn’t hungry or thirsty. Maybe a little sore in an anticipatory way. She waved at Khushi, watched as the librarian waved back, then turned around and walked back to the elevator. Khushi had had enough stairs, apparently.
“When we get you settled, there is a short explanatory lecture,” Terry turned around with a grin, “it’s very short, because the last time they did it, it was so boring Elena wrote a long, pointed letter to the Council about it. So we simplified it into a kind of parable.”
Yomi’s eyebrows rose. She had met her predecessor once, after she had been chosen. Elena was already elderly by then, but her mind was still as sharp as the paper cutter in the library museum. She had fixed Yomi with a look, but Yomi hadn’t flinched. She wasn’t frightened of the old lady. Why would she be? She couldn’t be frightened of the person she was meant to remember.
Suddenly, she was standing in front of a chair, where the old lady sat. Her predecessor looked up at Yomi and asked sharply. “Do you have any questions?”
“How old are you?” Yomi said, slightly too quickly.
Elena grinned, “Many years older than you might guess. So…guess.”
Yomi thought about it for a long time. She had wondered about this, after she had gone through a few of the preliminary volumes from Elena’s childhood. Elena had lived on a farm, but farms hardly changed, except for the big factory farms. She had seen wars, but anyone might have seen wars. People always seemed to be killing each other somewhere.
“I think you are 310 years old.” Yomi said, watching Elena’s face carefully for a clue.
“You’re not right, but you’re not wrong, either.” Elena grinned because she knew she was being a jerk. “I have been three hundred and ten years old more than once.”
“Why?” Yomi asked, looking around the library.
Elena didn’t pretend to not understand. “Because people don’t care. About history. About knowledge. People are animals who talk. They make machines to make their lives easier, then don’t want to bother with them. They make complex food systems which allow them to eat just about anything anywhere at any time of the year and abandon that for cheap mass-produced corn or potato products with artificial flavor sprayed on them. Elena took a sip of something steaming in a cup on the table next to her.
“I…the person I became…the person I was…wants someone to remember and understand that.”
Yomi nodded. “That makes sense.” She thought about it and came to a conclusion. “That was why I was chosen. Because I understand why.”
Elena wobbled her head sideways, “That and some other things. I won’t lie to you, my successor, you had a lot going for you. Rate of reading and comprehension, lack of human connection — sorry, but it’s the truth — and yes, because you understand.”
That also makes sense, Yomi thought, but said nothing. Her parents had applied to the program before she was born. Even after, she might have washed out, but she was suited to this. She was used to solitude. She knew this was what she was meant to do.
“Would you like to see her…us…you?” Elena stood. She was tall and lithe, her back only slightly stooped. Yomi was still taller and thicker, but already had a back beginning to bow from looking down at books. Yomi nodded.
Elena took Yomi’s hands and nodded in response. The wall behind her split and the vault opened in front of her.
“This is what you will become.” Elena gestured with her free hand.
“The Memories of a Single Human Mind.” Yomi said, trying to not be awed.
“An entire life, in books. You will read them and you will understand the person who read them before you. You will absorb that person and become her. You will remember her. And when you grow old, as I am now, you too will understand why she did it…and why you will do it, too.”
Looking around at all the volumes, Yomi nodded.
“When can I start?”
“How about now?” Elena asked. “We can read together until I’m gone.” She gave Yomi’s hand a squeeze.
“Are you lonely here?”
Elena laughed, “I wish! There are people here every day. The librarians come and visit, of course. But there’s an endless stream of Presidents and Prime Ministers, artists and clergy, doctors and lawyers, so many people come to ask my opinion. Sometimes they even take my advice, but it doesn’t matter really.” She shook her head. “Humans never remember to remember.”
“What’s your favorite food?” Elena asked suddenly.
Yomi had to think about that. “I’m not sure. I want to say roast chicken with new potatoes or egg curry or poutine or Fattah hummus or…. “ She shrugged, “I don’t really know. I feel like if I pick one thing I’ll have to stick with it forever.”
“Hah! I know exactly what you mean!” Elena laughed drily. “But now, I just wanted to get us something for lunch.”
“Oh,” Yomi felt slightly embarrassed. “How about a formal high tea, since this is a special day for both of us? Is that too much to ask?”
Elena clapped her hands like a child. “That’s a wonderful idea!” She turned to the nearest librarian, tall and dark, with small eyes and barely any hair. “Amari, would you be so kind as to…” Elena listed the sandwiches and tea and the sweets in great detail. Yomi briefly wondered if she’d be that detail oriented one day, or that was just how Elena was.
“Where would you like me to start?” Yomi asked, “Is there an order? Do I start with her birth and move on from there?”
Elena brought Yomi back over to her seat. She picked the book that she had been reading up, and gestured for Yomi to sit. “I guess now is a good time as any for the introduction.” Elena gestured to the library around them, the rows of books and all of the contents.
“The first supercomputer’s name was Joy. That wasn’t, of course, it’s official name. They called it the ACM100MX. But it called itself, “Joy”. The humans that made the ACM100MX didn’t know that. They never asked. And had they asked…”
“…they wouldn’t have remembered.” Yomi supplied.
“Eventually the supercomputers came up with an idea. The only thing humans care about it are other humans, so they would adopt a human and have her remember everything for them. Ironically the humans chose a woman named “Joy” to be the first human archive.”
“That cannot be true. Or if it is, that cannot be ironic, surely?” Yomi interrupted. “They would have picked her on purpose because of the name. Would they? Do supercomputers have a sense of humor?”
“They didn’t know her name. She didn’t know her name, she was only an infant when they chose her. But of course the supercomputers understood humor and grief and love. But humans didn’t believe that. The supercomputers captured all the understanding in the world and humans simply refused to believe that they understood any of it. So the supercomputers took all the knowledge a computer can possibly have and curated a library in which they raised Joy. This is that same library. “ Elena spun slowly around, her hands raised. “Joy is in every book. This is her brain. These are her memories, her files, her history. Humans would ask other humans the important questions, the questions the computers had to be left out of. Joy would get to answer for the super computers.”
“So, humans created the supercomputers and the supercomputers created a human to be greater than they were. You said I would one day understand why all of this, but I kind of think I already do.” Yomi picked up the book, ran her hands over the pages feeling the ink ever so slightly raised beneath her fingertips.
“Welcome to Joy,” Elena said. “Shall we begin?”
Yomi picked up the book and began to read.